What was it? What was it about them? Over the arms and backs of chairs, over the footboard, hanging long and fluted from doorknobs, even layered now over the covers they slept under. Jelonnek often wondered what it was. Scattered on the floor like casualties in the bedroom, bathroom, every room. There seemed to be more of them every day, and when he was drinking Jelonnek could lose himself in them just looking at them. Cuffs, collars, legs and sleeves in the shape of what’s lost or hoped for. Turmoil, surrender. If he drew, Jelonnek would think then, they would be his sole subject. He would draw you the truth of them. But he wasn’t drinking now and he couldn’t draw anything but stick figures.
He could hear it. Bouncing, rattling, rolling.
He got out of bed and took a pair of sweatpants from the back of a chair, the pair they both wore and had been wearing for so long neither could remember to whom they’d originally belonged. He put on the jersey that bore the number nineteen, he put it on inside out. A pair of slippers. She didn’t wake up.
Down in the no parking zone someone had once replaced the A with an O. Jelonnek stood at the edge for a while, watched it make noisy ragged circles in the same hot wind that had blown all day and most of the week. Dust too, and leaves and wrappers and a dirty flattened cup. Once, twice, it lapped near the yellow border and Jelonnek lunged halfheartedly, self-conscious, as if practicing, but it was even quicker and less predictable than it sounded. Then the wind picked it up and put it down so hard you had to wonder where anyone else was.
“I’m not God,” the manager would say, and more power to him. He said he picked up the grounds as well as could be expected every day. Must have blown in off the street, he said, and walked away whistling and he was the best whistler Jelonnek had ever heard, more power.
Jelonnek moved to the middle of the zone. It circled him now like a satellite. When it slowed he stooped, reached, moved his feet. Felt watched. Someone up there in a window, invisible, rooting neither for one nor the other, seeing him bent over his small shuffling steps, hands close to the ground like it was them he was chasing, or some stray pet that cost a two hundred-dollar deposit to keep.
He lost the glint of its skin in the shadows.
It cartwheeled, end over end.
Jelonnek recognized the label. He reached through the silence around it and it was snatched away like a prank at the end of a string. He half-expected to hear laughter then and looked up at the windows. The wind pulled his clothes tighter. He saw nothing and looked up the rest of the way. Where were the Dippers? He’d had a book once. It showed you all the shapes the stars made if you knew how to look. Her winking eye, her head, the hero who gripped it by the hair. The triangle, the bearded king, the Tinted Hand.
Jelonnek had never learned how to look. He’d gotten it for Christmas and lost it. It said there was another kind of wind up there, pushing across the abyss. It moved worlds but was made of nothing, the book said, because nothing was not what you thought it was, and emptiness isn’t empty. It is the womb.
He heard it. Something blew in his eye. He almost fell.
It lay and spun with its battered label like a compass needle in the middle of the world. Stood and turned like a top, pirouetted on its rim.
Jelonnek slowed, caught his breath. Tried to look a little less interested, even casual. Like he was out there for night air. Or meeting someone.
It rolled. He didn’t stop.
Firework was recently published by Tyrant Books. Eugene Marten is also the author of In the Blind and Waste. He lives in New York City.